Showing posts with label Coronavirus pandemic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coronavirus pandemic. Show all posts

Thursday, January 28, 2021

SUNY chancellor Jim Malatras chirps cheerily while college enrollment applications plunge 20 percent

 College enrollment applications plunged 20 percent at the State University of New York, an enormous college system with 64 campuses. The coronavirus pandemic bears most of the blame.

But SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras is upbeat.  The coronavirus "invites us how we can do better," he assured the public a few days ago.

 "Let's ride the wave," he chortled. After all, SUNY is "on the cutting edge of the new student-focused approach." 

Of course, Chancellor Malatras can afford to be upbeat. He makes $450,000 a year and gets a $60,000 annual housing allowance. 

Where did this bozo come from? Did SUNY do a national search before it hired Mr. Malatras?

No, it did not.  According to Nicolas Tampio, writing in USA Today, Malatras is a crony of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Newspaper headlines referred to him as "Cuomo loyalist Malatras," and "Cuomo aid Malatras," Tampico observed. Malatras was formerly Cuomo's director of operations and one of the governor's advisors on New York's COVID response.

I feel so much better. After all, Cuomo's administration did a great job managing the coronavirus pandemic--especially at the nursing homes, where COVID deaths were underreported by 50 percent.

Merryl Tisch, SUNY's board chairwoman, stoutly maintains her board acted wisely when it hired Malatras without a national search. Why?  

[Because the board] felt it was imperative to act now in a reasonable and deliberate and socially aware moment to protect the SUNY system across the full array of challenges and help produce a model for sustainability in a post-COVID world.

What the hell does that mean? Did chairwoman Tisch pull that sentence out of her butt? Or did some hack in SUNY's public relations office pump out that swill?

But perhaps I'm too hard on Chancellor Malatras. After all, SUNY pays him half a million bucks a year to be a cheerleader--not Debbie Downer.

But here is some advice to New Yorkers about their college choices. Make up your own mind about your post-secondary education, and don't take out too many student loans to pay for it. Don't just listen to some clown blather on about his university's "student-focused approach" for spending your borrowed money.


Don't borrow too much money to "ride the wave" with Chancellor Malatras.



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

College professors are burned out by the coronavirus pandemic: Hey, join the friggin' club!

 College professors are burned out by the coronavirus epidemic. According to Liz McMillen, Executive Editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Faculty members are stressed, sometimes extremely so; they're tired and anxious about a required return to campus; they say they are neglecting their research and publishing. They aren't sure that their institutions have their safety as their top priority.

In short, as the cover of The Chronicle's special issue proclaims: "The Pandemic is Dragging on. And Professors Are Burning Out."

I'm not surprised. Professor Gary Dworkin, the leading researcher on teacher burnout, has linked the phenomenon to feelings of hopelessness, meaninglessness, and isolation.

Professors have certainly been isolated during the pandemic. Almost all face-to-face learning shut down last spring, and instructors were forced to teach their classes online--whether or not they wanted to or were trained for teaching with computers. Not fun.

And many professors have good reasons for feeling hopeless. University budgets are being cut, programs slashed, instructors laid off.  Two of my colleagues at prestigious private universities had their retirement benefits slashed--not a good sign for the future.

Finally, some faculty members are probably feeling that their work is meaningless. Many universities adopted pass/fail grading policies during the pandemic, which tends to erode the rigor of teaching and learning. If students believe they will pass a course with only a minimum amount of work, most will slack off; and if a professor is required to assign 100 grades under a pass-fail policy, that professor will likely pass every student who has a pulse.

But hey, things are tough all over. Minimum-wage workers, people in the hospitality industry, small-business owners are all suffering.  Parents with small children are stressed to the max as they try to juggle their jobs with daycare. Many of these folks do not have health insurance.

Professors, after all, have paid health care and retirement benefits. If they are tenured, they have rock-solid job protection. And most of them have flexible work schedules.  I don’t think there is one tenured professor out of ten who goes to the office on Friday or shows up at work before 10 AM on a Monday morning.

As for all that neglected research and publishing that Editor McMillen mentioned, I'm not buying it. 

First of all, a lot of stuff gets published that is totally worthless except as a stepping stone to tenure. We could save thousands of trees if the professors published less--especially the professors in education and the soft-science fields.

In any event, I'm not convinced that the pandemic has slowed down productive research that much.  Admittedly, some researchers must do their work in laboratories or the field. The coronavirus probably impedes their progress.

But what prevents a professor from going to work on the book that's perpetually described as "in progress"? After all, a lot of profs are teaching at home in their pajamas. Maybe there's a little time for writing during the day instead of watching The View. Whoopi's not going to help you write that bestseller.

In short, esteemed scholars, stop your whining. 

Despite what you might think from reading The Chronicle of Higher Education’s special issue on professor burnout—it’s not all about you.




Saturday, January 2, 2021

Say goodbye to your golden years: 100 million Americans have no retirement savings

According to the  National Insitute on Retirement Security, more than 100 million Americans have no retirement savings whatsoever. 

As Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director, observed:

The facts and data are clear. Retirement is in peril for most working-class Americans . . . When all working individuals are considered--not just the minority with retirement accounts--the typical working American has zero, zilch, nothing saved for retirement.

The NIRS partly blamed the 2007 recession for the bad news. But the report was issued in 2018--before the coronavirus put millions of people out of work.  Over the past year, Americans have dipped into their savings and their retirement accounts just to pay today's bills.

 A 2019 survey also reported bad news for American retirees. A GobankingRanks survey concluded that almost two out of three Americans (64 percent) will retire broke. And--shockingly--nearly half of the people surveyed said they'd didn't care!

Clearly, millions of Americans are not preparing for their retirement years. Many workers don't make enough money to fund a retirement account, and others are overwhelmed with consumer debt--home mortgages, car payments, and credit card bills.

And student-loan debt is a significant contributor to Americans' precarious financial status. More than 40 million people have outstanding student debt, and less than half that number are paying it off. Nine million student-loan debtors are in long-term income-based repayment plans, which means they will never pay down their loan balances.

What is going to happen to all these impecunious Americans when they reach retirement age?

A great many will just keep working until they die or become too incapacitated to be a Walmart greeter. Others will tap the equity in their homes or draw down their meager savings just to pay their utility bills. Some will move in with their kids--who will have their own financial troubles.

As a recent New Yorker article noted, there is a growing movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I hope Congress does exactly that.

Nevertheless, even if the minimum wage is roughly doubled, elderly Americans who work full-time at Wendy's for $15 an hour will generate just enough income to keep them above the poverty line.

Working on their feet for eight hours a day will be difficult for people in their seventies.  Many will have to pop Chinese-manufactured Advils to keep their arthritis under control.  But it can be done.

But the days when Americans referred to retirement as the Golden Years are over.  For many Americans, their last years will not be golden. They will be difficult, bitter, and depressing.

photo credit: finance.yahoo.com



Monday, December 14, 2020

Small private colleges are going down: Don't get trapped under the rubble

 Inside Higher Education carried a story today about major cuts being made at three higher education institutions. Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, is laying off 225 faculty and staff members. The University of Evansville, a Methodist college, is eliminating 17 majors and three departments. The College of Saint. Rose, a Catholic school, is cutting 16 majors and six master's degrees.

These three colleges are not alone. All over the United States, small, private colleges are suffering from declining enrollments and declining revenues.  Many of them will close over the next couple of years.

The colleges blame demographic trends.  There are simply fewer traditional college-age people in the American population.  Consequently, fewer students are going to college.

The coronavirus pandemic didn't help matters. The COVID outbreak caused a lot of young people to postpone their college plans. And it imposed high costs on institutions that were left with empty dorm rooms this fall.

An overall decline in religion has sapped the vitality of schools that were founded by various churches.  The University of Evansville, for example, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but how many young people choose a college because it has ties with a religious denomination?

The small private schools have been fighting desperately to reverse their enrollment crops. They've rolled out new programs, spiffed up their study-abroad offerings, hired public relations firms, and slashed tuition. But for many--these survival strategies won't be enough. 

If you are a young person in the process of deciding where to go to college, here is my advice. Do not go to a small, private school with enrollment below 1,000 students.  The smaller colleges are the most vulnerable. 

You do not want to enroll at a college that closes before you obtain your degree or shortly after graduating.  You don't want to take out student loans to pay tuition at a school that is slashing programs and laying off faculty.  You certainly don't want your parents to take out a Parent Plus Loan so you can study at some obscure little school in the Midwest that won't prepare you for a good job.

In short, private liberal arts education is on the verge of collapse. Don't get trapped under the falling rubble.






Friday, November 13, 2020

Declining enrollments, a barrage of Title IX litigation and now COVID 19 lawsuits: Weak colleges will succumb to multiple woes

 How many times have we seen those nature programs showing thousands of wildebeests thundering across the African plains, trailed by hungry lions just waiting for a chance to pull down a sick or injured animal?

Many beleaguered American college presidents must feel like those wildebeests--desperately hoping to outrun the hungry lions of financial reality.

First of all, enrollments dropped precipitously at many colleges and universities over the past few years due to various reasons, including demographics. There just aren't as many college-aged individuals as there were a few years ago.  In Pennsylvania, for example, enrollments in the state's university system have dropped 20 percent in the last few years. 

Small, private colleges have suffered the most from this demographic downturn, which has forced some of them to close. Their situation hasn't been helped by a declining interest in the liberal arts and the humanities.  These little colleges' mission is to prepare students for adulthood by providing a sturdy liberal arts education. Now the kids don't want a degree in history or English.  They elect to become business majors.

Secondly, universities across the United States have been hit with a spate of lawsuits brought mostly by male students who were suspended or expelled for sexual misconduct.  These students have charged colleges with kicking them out of school without giving them a fair hearing, and several federal courts have responded sympathetically to that argument.  Quite a few of these cases have made it into the federal appellate courts.

In a 2018 scholarly article, Diane Heckman listed fifteen federal-court decisions in 2018 involving claims that a college mishandled its sexual assault hearings. Five of these opinions were at the federal appellate court level. I haven't seen the numbers, but I feel sure this litigation has accelerated. 

And then the coronavirus pandemic showed up.  The universities spent lots of money to keep their campuses safe, but a new COVID outbreak seems to break out every day at one college or another.

Students who test positive for the virus are being quarantined in their dorms, making them unhappy campers. After all, the whole point of going to college for many young people is to drink beer and party in the new hook-up culture.  Can't go out at the weekend?  That's a bummer, man.

Parents are understandably leery about putting their sons and daughters in a college dorm where they live cheek to jowl with peers who engage in risky behavior. Consequently, fewer students are choosing to live in the residence halls. This is a huge problem for the universities because they need dorm revenues to service their student housing debt.

And now the colleges have been hit with a tidal wave of class-action suits brought by students who want a refund or at least a partial refund for their spring tuition.  They argue, quite plausibly, that the quality of their education deteriorated when the universities closed their campuses last March and switched instruction from face-to-fact to an online format.

How many of these lawsuits have been filed? According to a law firm that keeps track of this litigation, students have filed more than 160 lawsuits demanding tuition refunds.  If a college loses one of these suits, it will be required to reimburse all its students for part of their spring tuition and fees--a crushing cost for most schools.  In fact, a court order requiring a college to give students their money back will likely be a death sentence for a small, private liberal arts school.

Hardly anyone saw the coronavirus coming, so no one can reasonably blame the universities if they failed to respond perfectly to the pandemic. We still don't know a lot about this plague, and the nation must steel itself for millions of more cases before a vaccine becomes widely available.

Nevertheless, many weak collegiate wildebeests will be dragged down over the next 12 to 18 months.  A few professors who believed they had lifetime job security will learn that they can be laid off if their employer experiences a genuine financial emergency. And those small-town businesspeople who depend on college students showing up every fall with their parents' credit cards will see their standard of living drop.  Those people, too, will find they have become the metaphorical equivalent of a weak and wounded ungulate running for its life from a pack of hungry lions.

References

Diane Heckman, The Proliferation of Title IX Collegiate Mishandling Cases Involving Sexual Misconduct Between 2016-2018: The March to the Federal Circuit Courts358 Education Law Reporter 697 (2018).







Monday, September 14, 2020

Did colleges engage in a bait-and-switch scam to maximize revenues during the coronavirus pandemic?

According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, American universities lured students back to campus this fall by deceptively promising to offer at least some in-person instruction. Then--after the students showed up and paid their tuition and fees--the colleges changed their policies and offered most or all of their classes in an online format.

In the Examiner's view:
[C]ollege administrators pulled a classic con artist's bait and switch. They asked college students to return to campus and bilked parents out of full-freight fees with the promise that at least some instruction would be in-person rather than online. Shortly before school opened, with the money safely in the bank, they shifted exclusively or at least nearly exclusively to online instruction, but asked student to come back to campus anyway.
Is this a fair indictment? I think it is.  Schools all over the United States shifted to online teaching for the fall semester, which almost everyone agrees is inferior to face-to-face instruction. Nevertheless, the schools did not discount their tuition, and they did not close their dormitories.

How can a college tell students that in-person classes are dangerous while continuing to stuff the kids into residence halls and frat houses, where the risk of contracting the coronavirus is unreasonably high?

In my view, American colleges responded to the COVID-19 crisis to maximize revenue at the expense of their students' health. It was nuts for universities to pack young adults into dorms at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still not under control.

But the colleges were forced to adopt this reckless policy because they need the cash flow.  Many universities financed their dorm-building sprees by floating bonds or entering into partnerships with private corporations that funded the construction projects in return for getting a percentage of the room-and-board fees. These schools have got to keep their dorms full to meet their financial obligations.

Unfortunately for American higher education, the coronavirus disrupted its business model.  Parents are not going to pay fifty grand a year for their children to take online classes, and they are not going to pay room-and-board fees so their kids can live in crowded dormitories where they face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

This cash-before-kids policy is not going to work for a lot of colleges. Many will close in the coming year.  And the upcoming shut-down of American schools is not just due to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of families have figured out that that the universities are charging way too much for mediocre academic programs that don't lead to good jobs.

As James Howard Kunstler put it in a recent blog essay:
[T]he colleges and universities are [not] going down hard . . . just because Covid-19 has interrupted their business plan. Rather, because of the stupendous and gross dishonesty that higher ed has fallen into. The racketeering around college loans was bad enough but the intellectual racketeering around fake fields of study, thought-crime persecutions, and an epic sexual hysteria has disgraced the very mission of higher ed, turned it into something no better than a sick cult . . . .
I could not have said it better myself. Americans are awaking to the fact that much of our nation's higher education system is a big scam, and they are increasingly unwilling to subject their children to an education system that looks more and more like the Spanish Inquisition.

The penalty for saying "All Lives Matter" on a university campus








Thursday, August 27, 2020

Colleges urged to go test optional: We don't need no stinkin' standardized admission tests!

More and more colleges are admitting new students without requiring them to take a traditional standardized admissions test: the ACT or SAT. According to the National Associaton for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 55 percent of colleges nationwide have waived those tests for this academic year--that's more than 1,600 colleges.

Why? Some colleges have waived the tests because of the coronavirus pandemic. Taking those tests during the COVID-19 outbreak is a health risk, they say, and an additional burden on college-goers during an already stressful time.

Now the NACAC wants colleges to waive those tests for the 2021-22 admission cycle. According to this organization, requiring such tests makes colleges "appear to send the signal that college admission exams take priority over students' health . . . " The NACAC also maintains that some high schools now prohibit colleges that require applicants to take a standardized test "from engaging with their students through school channels." Really?

The NACAC goes on to make a couple of arguments against standardized test scores, which I view as nearly hysterical:
Should public institutions maintain that these test requirements, US Department of Education data suggest that they stand to lose tens of thousands of students (and correlated tuition)--both from within and outside the state--to institutions not requiring the tests.
In other words, NACAC claims that a college that requires standardized tests will lose students to institutions that don't, which will cost them tuition revenue. 

Moreover, the NACAC hints darkly, a college that requires applicants to take the SAT or the ACT could get sued for a civil rights violation!
They also risk [says NACAC] creating a disparate impact due to prohibitive costs of sitting for an exam, particularly among low-income and minority communities, which could expose state institutions, systems, and administration to civil rights actions.
Implicit in that statement is a warning that a college that requires applicants to take the ACT could be accused of racism.


Personally, I think the NACAC is sputtering pure bullshit. In my opinion, the reason hundreds of colleges have tossed out their standardized admissions test has nothing to do with students' health or their civil rights.

Colleges all over the country are in a jungle battle for students, as the demand for higher education ebbs. Schools must reach their enrollment targets to survive because they are dependent on tuition money--which means they are dependent on federal student loans.

By throwing out the ACT and the SAT, colleges make it easier for them to admit unqualified students.  Hey--these colleges are saying--just show up, fill out your financial aid application, and you are good to go. No need to take a stressful standardized test--a test that might document just how unprepared for college you really are.

But this trend, which is snowballing, is eroding the integrity of higher education.  As admission standards fall, more and more colleges are admitting students who are not capable of passing their courses under traditional academic standards. 

But the colleges need the tuition revenue, so weak students are not washed out. Instead, grading standards are lowered so that almost no student fails a course or even makes a D.

This trend is bad for nearly everyone. Many students who were not prepared for college-level study eventually get degrees, which deceives them into thinking they accomplished something. 

Students who are qualified to be enrolled--as evidenced by high scores on the ACT or SAT--get a watered-down educational experience as they sit in dumbed-down courses.

And jettisoning academic standards undermines the morale of faculty members--especially those who believe that students who come to college should have a basic grasp of grammar and diction. I myself have taught graduate students who had 18 years of formal education and still didn't know where to put a quotation mark.

But trash-canning the SAT and ACT is a good thing for colleges that have virtually become open-enrollment institutions(or at least nonselective institutions) but don't want anyone to know it.  It is so much easier just to admit nearly everyone who applies because even an unqualified student can get a federal student loan to pay tuition.

Already, we see the wreckage produced by a higher education industry that lowered academic standards to keep their enrollments up. Hundreds of thousands of people who were not prepared for college and incapable of completing a rigorous degree program are finding that their college experience did not equip them to get a job. Yet, they are saddled with student loans they will never repay and can't discharge in bankruptcy.





Thursday, August 20, 2020

Google says you can skip college: Uh-oh!

Universities have been whistling past the graveyard for years, Ignoring the signs of rot in their industry, they just rolled along through the decades, charging obscene prices for educational experiences that were obsolete. 

Overall, college enrollment dropped ten percent over the past decade, but the universities did not reduce their costs. Instead, they hired recruiters who flew around the country trying to raid students from competing universities in other states.

In a desperate search for paying customers, colleges "rebranded" themselves with catchy slogans pasted on highway billboards--slogans like "Change Your Life. Start Hear, Life's Calling. It's Your Life."

Then they whipped up "cutting edge" college majors, upgraded their recreation facilities, and constructed "luxury" student dorms. They rolled out romantic study-abroad experiences in England, Spain, and Italy. 

To pay for this nonsense, colleges raised tuition. When sticker shock set in, they switched tactics and slashed tuition--slashed it by half for incoming freshmen. But neither tactic stabilized their revenues.
Last spring, the universities were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing them to spend lavishly to keep their campuses safe. Many are closing their dorms in response to the crisis--another revenue loss.

Meanwhile, Americans accumulated $1.7 trillion in student debt--debt they incurred in the often vain hope that a college education (and perhaps a graduate degree) would lead to a good job.

And now, Google has launched an inexpensive professional certification program that can be completed in six months. As reported by David Leibowitz, Google "signaled to jobseekers that they would treat these certificates, which require no prior experience of undergraduate credentials, as the equivalent of four-year degrees by their hiring managers."

Or, as Google put it, "In our hiring, we will now treat these new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles."

What! Can a young person actually get a good job after taking a six-month training program without having to sit through four years of bullshit to get a bachelor's degree--or six years of bullshit to get a master's degree?

Can people really earn a living wage, marry, buy a house, have children, and save for retirement without taking a course in transnational sexuality? Without taking out $50,000 in student loans that can never be paid back? Without having a professor teach them that Mom and Pop, by staying in a traditional marriage, were participating in the structured exploitation of women and people of color?

Can that be true?

By God, we better hope it's true because the lazy, dysfunctional, anti-intellectual, toxic, and often racist cocktail that we call American higher education ain't working for us.

And I use the word "ain't" advisedly, because Rutgers University says that mastery of standard English grammar is not absolutely necessary to communicate as an educated person. 




"Learning. Leading," at the University of Houston. Yuh think?












Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, has 444 students. Roughly ten percent tested positive for COVID-19. Think about it

 When I was four years old, my father told me the most harrowing story of my childhood--perhaps the most harrowing story of my life.
In the spring of 1942, my father was an Army Air Corps fighter pilot stationed in the Philippines. He was captured by the Japanese when the American Army surrendered after the Battle of Bataan.
The Japanese imprisoned the Americans in Manilla but later transported them by ship to Japan. The vessels weren't marked as prison ships, and American Navy dive bombers spotted them steaming out of Manilla harbor. The Americans bombed the ships, and the Japanese locked down the hatches so that the prisoners would drown below deck if the ship were sunk.
American planes sunk at least one ship, killing all the American prisoners. My father's vessel was more fortunate. An American bomb blew a hole in its side, and the prisoners scrambled up on deck. My father started swimming and was recaptured by the Japanese, who were retrieving prisoners in small boats.
But, my father told me, some American prisoners could not swim. They stood on the deck of the sinking ship, crying and begging their comrades to save them.
"Did you help them," I asked? My father said no. He said he knew he could only save himself.
Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, has about 440 students, and roughly 10 percent have tested positive for COVID-19. Those students are being quarantined, but life must go on. Bethel is not closing.
What does it cost to attend Bethel College? About $43,000 a year, including room, board, tuition, and fees.  Most students pay less because they get some form of financial aid. But even with financial aid, students will pay about $25,000 a year to study at Bethel.
Does that make sense to you? Does it make sense to take out student loans to attend Bethel College during a pandemic? It doesn't make sense to me.
A lot of small, private liberal-arts colleges are going to close within the next couple of years. You do not want to get a degree from a college that will be extinct before you pay off your student loans.
These ships are going down, and you don't want to go down with them. Take a lesson from my father-- save yourself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

One in four young Americans contemplated suicide in June: Will they feel better if they take out student loans and go to college?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms what Americans already know: The coronavirus pandemic is harmful to our mental health.  And young people are particularly vulnerable.

According to the CDC, one out of four Americans ages 18 through 24 contemplated suicide in June. The CDC's study did not break down that age group between college students and other young Americans. Still, everyone knows (often from personal experience) that going to college can be depressing.

Experts worry that the financial downturn will be hard on college budgets, forcing schools to cut back on counseling services for students.  But maybe not. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2018 that colleges have at least a limited duty to prevent their students from committing suicide. That decision is likely to prompt higher education to invest more resources in their students' mental health.

Personally, I think now might be the wrong time for young people to go to college. The job market is terrible, and no one knows for sure which industries will thrive after we conquer COVID-19. I think the financial turmoil will make it harder for undergraduates to pick a college major that will prepare them for a post-pandemic job.

The universities themselves are agitated by social unrest, with some institutions thinking about defunding their campus police.  Depending on how that goes, students may find themselves vulnerable to crime when they stroll across the quad on their way to Psychology 101.

And a college education has become incredibly expensive.  The National Center for Educational Statistics reported that tuition and expenses to attend a four-year college went from $5,504 a year in 1985-1986 to $$27,357 in 2017-2018 (in constant dollars). (My thanks to Steve Rhode for alerting me to those figures.)

That's a four-fold increase in college costs over 32 years. When prices are adjusted for inflation, the increase is less dramatic but not reassuring. Whose wages have kept up with inflation over the last 10 years? I know mine haven't.

If you are one of the millions of young people who graduated from high school and have no clue about what you are going to do for a living, don't take out student loans to find out. If you stumble into one of the flaky liberal arts or social studies majors (sociology, psychology, international relations, gender studies, etc.), you may well wind up with $50,000 or more in student debt and no idea how you will pay it back.

You think you are depressed now, how will you feel when your first student loan payment comes due?

If you decide to go to college anyway, do what you can to reduce the risk of depression. If you've read anything by J.D. Salinger, forget it and throw his books away. By writing Catcher in the Rye, Salinger has done more to depress young people than anyone with the possible exception of Bob Dylan.






Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Three moves equal one fire: In these troubled times, shelter should be the first priority.

In the early 20th century, a lot of Americans in the rural South were tenant farmers; and they often moved from farm to farm to remain employed. "Three moves are as bad as a fire," was a common observation because the disruption, property loss, and cost of moving could be devastating. Three such moves caused as much damage as one fire.

According to the Aspen Institute, as reported by Steve Rhode, "One in five of the 110 million Americans who live in renter households are at risk of eviction by September." Most of these people live in urban areas, but the trauma and loss caused by eviction are just as devastating for them as for the Southern tenant farmers who lost their homes a hundred years ago.

Being evicted often means that parents have to pull their children out of school in midyear, which disrupts their kids' education. Renting another apartment usually requires the new tenant to come up with a security deposit, which may be impossible for people who have no savings and no credit cards. Moving to a new apartment also means having to open a new account for electricity and water, and often the utility companies require a deposit.

Three moves equal one fire in modern America. And people who can't scramble successfully from one rented apartment to another become homeless.

Our federal government has distributed massive infusions of cash into the American economy to offset the economic calamity caused by COVID-19. Still, a lot of that money went to people who don't need it. More than 600,000 businesses benefited from the Payroll Protection Program, including 1,400 investment advisors.

Poor people, on the other hand, have received scant relief.  The government mailed out  $1,200 one-time checks a few months ago, but that amount may not cover a month's rent.  Congress fattened people's unemployment checks by $600 a month--a significant benefit, to be sure, but this aid is temporary.

We already see the disruption in housing caused by the coronavirus. The number of adults living with their parents has spiked upward to 24.8 million, with the most significant increases among people in their early twenties.  Sixty percent of young Black men are living with their parents or grandparents.

Matthew Desmond called for radical changes in housing policy in his 2016 book titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. He argues for universal housing vouchers to guarantee that every American would live in a home that is "decent, modest, and fairly priced."

In the short term, I don't see significant changes in national housing policy.  But this much seems clear. The federal government needs to devote a substantial amount of its coronavirus-relief money to making sure unemployed, and low-income Americans can stay in their rented homes.

Shanty housing during the Great Depression






Monday, June 29, 2020

Coronavirus update: The Fed bought $428 million of corporate debt while distressed student-loan debtors get diddly squat

Perhaps you have noticed, as I have, that a high percentage of the George Floyd protestors are young White people.

 Youthful White men and women helped pull the ropes that brought down statues of Confederate figures across the South. And it is Millenials--White Millenials--who joined in the vandalism and destruction that damaged many American cities.

Why is that? Are White protestors merely standing in solidarity with their Black brothers and sisters over the residue of racism in the United States? Or do they have their own grievances?

I think it is both. In this season of discontent, we should remember how many Americans have been thrown out of work--tens of millions.  And we should never forget that 45 million Americans--more young than old--owe $1.7 trillion in student debt, and only about half can pay it back.

This nation has been in lockdown for four months now due to the coronavirus epidemic.  Public employees--professors, teachers, administrators, etc.--are still getting paid.  Workers in the private sector have been laid off by the millions, especially in the service industry. And many of these unemployed workers have student loans.

What has our federal government done to assist laid-off student-loan debtors?  Diddly squat.  The Department of Education has granted a brief reprieve from making monthly loan payments and is abstaining from charging interest, but that is about it.

Oh, yes, DOE said it would stop collection efforts against defaulted college-loan borrowers until the coronavirus crisis had passed. But last May, DOE was sued for allowing employers to continue collection efforts.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank is buying up corporate debt--over $400 million. So far, the Fed has bought corporate debt owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Boeing, Exxon-Mobile, Ford and Walmart. And it has distributed more than $350 million in forgivable loans to businesses that promise to maintain their payrolls.

Who has benefited from the Fed's helicopter money over the last few months?  Corporate executives and corporate stockholders, that's who.  And--in case Fed Chair Jeremy Powell hasn't noticed--the people protesting on America's streets don't own stock.

I don't mean to question the motives of White protestors who join the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. I feel most are expressing real and legitimate anger about race relations in the United States.

But I also believe that White protestors feel a kinship with Black protestors on economic issues and consider themselves to be fellow victims of corporate America.  And I agree with them about that.

Many White demonstrators have racked up thousands of dollars in student debt and are not holding down jobs that will allow them to pay back what they owe. Some have come to realize that their college education was way too expensive and didn't prepare them for decent jobs. 

Now, these student-loan debtors are out of work and struggling to make their loan payments. They realize that our federal government has been spewing out billions of dollars to corporations to help them deal with the coronavirus while it has done virtually nothing for distressed college borrowers.

They are angry. I would be angry too--very, very angry. 





Saturday, June 27, 2020

Planning on going to college this fall? Why not wait a year or two?

Since time immemorial, middle-class parents have urged their children to get a college education. A college degree, parents believed, was the indispensable ticket to a good life.  College was where young people prepared for the world of work, where they often met their future spouses, and where they formed lifelong ties to classmates.

But listen carefully. Times have changed. The coronavirus, campus unrest, and a troubled economy have undermined the value of a college degree. If you are thinking about enrolling for college this fall, you might want to postpone that plan--at least for a year. And here is why:

The coronavirus pandemic. First of all, the COVID-19 epidemic forced virtually every American college to close last spring and to shift from live instruction to a distance-learning format.  Most schools have announced that they will be teaching their courses online this fall. 

Moreover, dorm life, college sports, and extracurricular activities will all be negatively impacted by the coronavirus.  In short, going to college next year may not be much fun.

Colleges and universities will learn to adapt to a post-pandemic world, but it will probably take a couple of years before they figure it out. Why not postpone college for a year or two while this transition is ongoing?

Less police protection.  Colleges have a legal duty to keep their students safe on campus and in the dorms. Most colleges meet this responsibility by maintaining a campus police force.

In the wake of George Floyd's killing, however, many colleges and universities are facing intense pressure to dismantle their police forces. As Insider Higher Ed recently reported:
 Student organizations, workers’ unions and individual activists at dozens of universities are calling on administrations to cut ties with local police or disband campus police departments, saying that policing institutions enact violence upon black people and uphold white supremacy.
So if you go to college this fall, there is a good chance that police protection on your campus will be diminished from what it was a year ago or even eliminated.  In my view, this is another reason to postpone going to college. Wait until the debate about campus law enforcement is resolved before embarking on your college career.

Growing uncertainty about the worth of a college degree. Although the higher-education industry tirelessly touts the value of college education, that mantra is becoming shopworn.

Without question, the cost of going to college is far too high.  In particular, students who take out student loans to major in "soft" disciplines (social sciences, humanities, gender studies, etc.) are finding that their degrees leave them with massive debt and no job.

Some young people go to college with a clear idea about how their degree will qualify them for vocations in such fields as engineering, business, computer sciences,  or medical technology. But others are clueless about why they are on campus.

If you have only a hazy notion about how you want to make a living, you should strongly consider working for a year after graduating from high school. You should use the time to reflect on your future and explore alternatives to chasing a college degree.

In my state, thousands of people have gotten technical training at vocational and community colleges and gone on to get good jobs with six-figure salaries.  If you ask these people whether they are sorry they didn't acquire a bachelor's degree, I think most will tell you no.

So think long and hard before going to college this fall, especially if you plan to finance your studies with student loans. Your chosen university will still be around in 2021 if you decide to pursue a college education. 



Sunday, May 31, 2020

To hell with social distancing: Let's loot the liquor store!

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on Memoria Day. Riots began in Minneapolis on the following day and quickly spread across the country. Within a week of Floyd's death, more than half the states had called out their National Guard.

Dozens of police officers have been injured over a week of rioting. In New York City, almost four dozen police cars were damaged or destroyed. In Chicago, a policewoman was assaulted by rioters who tried to keep her from making an arrest.  In Minneapolis-St. Paul, more than 250 buildings were damaged or destroyed by rioters, including a police station and a post office. 

All this mayhem was triggered by the unjust killing of a black man, but I think there are other causes for all this violence. After all, there are 40 million Americans who are out of work.  Surely some protestors are on the streets simply because they are unemployed and bored.

For example, while watching the television coverage of the riots last week, I saw a slightly obese white guy in his fifties who was out on the streets of Minneapolis.  A television camera captured the man verbally abusing a police officer from a distance of about six inches from the officer's face. Does that guy have a job, I wondered? 

I don't wish to disparage the motives of the people who are demonstrating in our cities, but I think there would have been a lot less vandalism, arson, and looting if there were not so many jobless people.

A dude with a job would probably turn down an invitation to set fire to the post office. "It's a lovely invitation," he might say, "but unfortunately, I have to be at work tomorrow by 8 AM." 

He might also beg off from joining an expedition to loot the local liquor store. "I wish I could join you," he might explain," but I have to get the kids off to school tomorrow morning.

Requiring people to wear masks when they appear in public is also playing a role in all this chaos.  Many states passed anti-mask laws back in the 1920s to help bring down the Ku Klux Klan. But this past week, thousands of protesters were wearing masks that cloaked them in anonymity should they decide to throw a firebomb at a police cruiser.

George Floyd's death has fueled legitimate anger all over the United States. Everyone realizes that. But in my opinion, these riots will not be quelled so long as millions of Americans are jobless and required to wear masks when they are on the streets.

Burning police cars: requiring people to wear masks is part of the problem.



Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Second (and kinder) thoughts about distance learning at the universities during the coronavirus pandemic

Not long ago, I commented on the mass shift to distance learning at American universities, which were forced to close their campuses last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disappointed students sued more than 50 colleges about the transition, arguing that the quality of their education had deteriorated when face-to-face instruction was suspended. I commented that the students were surely right and that distance learning is indeed inferior to traditional modes of teaching.

Since I wrote that commentary, however, I taught a course as an adjunct at my former university, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.  I delivered this course using two distance-learning tools: Moodle and Zoom.

With Moodle, I was able to post all my reading materials and communicate with my students about their assignments. Using Zoom, I met with a small group of students in "real-time," and we were able to discuss court cases very much as if we were all in the same room. 

This positive experience with distance learning caused me to revise my views. I now believe that most colleges can maintain the overall quality of their instruction, even if they are forced to rely heavily on distance learning in the upcoming fall semester. But I still believe something will be lost if universities rely too heavily on technology.

 Zoom, I learned, is an excellent way to meet with small groups of students who are in different places. I think seminars and small-class settings taught through Zoom or a similar product can continue with little loss in quality.

And it seems to me that large lecture classes will not be adversely affected if professors give their lectures by video.  After all, one of my first classes as an undergraduate more than 40 years ago had 700 students enrolled. I was given an assigned seat at the back of the auditorium and could hardly identify the gender of my professor.  Delivering video lectures may actually be an improvement over having instructors drone on to hundreds of students in a cavernous auditorium.

I am still skeptical of so-called asynchronous teaching, where the professor presents students with canned instructional units without ever having any personal interaction with them. In my view, this kind of education amounts to little more than a correspondence course.

I am also skeptical about distance-taught instruction that assesses student performance through pass-fail grading.  It has been my observation that all rigor goes out the window when a professor is grading students on a pass-fail basis. It is almost impossible to fail anyone when the assessment standards are so relaxed, and it is absolutely impossible to reward students who excel in their classes.

And I continue to be opposed to academic programs that are delivered entirely online. After all, who believes that an undergraduate degree, a master's degree. or a doctoral degree that is offered entirely online is in any way comparable to an academic degree taught traditionally on an actual college campus?

I wish all the colleges well as they adjust their academic programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I think most of them can deliver instruction this fall through various distance-learning formats without too much loss in quality.

Nevertheless, most students choose their colleges based on their perception of what their campus experience will be like. They don't just sit in classes, after all. They live in residence halls, interact with other students, and immerse themselves in all kinds of extracurricular activities. Some percentage of students will not go to college this fall if they can't have a traditional college experience.

Most commentators predict a significant enrollment decline if academic life doesn't get back to normal (or at least close to normal) by the fall semester. I think they are right. And the colleges that will suffer the most are the small liberal arts colleges and the regional public institutions.

This guy should be teaching online.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

One-day bankruptcies for corporations and decade-long bankruptcy proceedings for student debtors: Is that fair?

Jonathan Henes, a corporate attorney, wrote an op-ed essay for the Wall Stree Journal a few days ago calling for Congress to codify one-day bankruptcies for financially troubled corporations. "The one-day bankruptcy would streamline the bankruptcy practice," Henes argued and would reduce business disruptions and legal expenses.

Henes's appeal in the Wall Stree Journal is not the only suggestion for streamlining the corporate bankruptcies that are sure to come due to the coronavirus pandemic.  A group of legal scholars wrote a joint letter recently asking Congress to appoint more bankruptcy judges to deal with corporate bankruptcies that are looming on the national horizon.

Henes's essay and the legal scholars' letter both make reasonable suggestions on behalf of America's big businesses. If corporate America backs these proposals, they have a good chance of being enacted into law.

But is anyone thinking about relief for America's distressed student-loan debtors? After all, according to the Department of Education's own report, 8.1 million college borrowers are in long-term repayment plans that are designed never to be paid off and which can last for as long as 25 years. How about some bankruptcy relief for these people?

It would be cruelly ironic if Congress codifies one-day bankruptcies for corporations while the Bankruptcy Code makes it nearly impossible for insolvent student-loan borrowers to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy.

And even student debtors who prevail in the bankruptcy courts often find themselves embroiled in appellate proceedings that can last for years.  Michael Hedlund, for example, filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and sought to discharge student loans he had taken out to go to Willamette Law School. 

Ultimately, a bankruptcy judge granted Hedlund a partial discharge, but the decision was reversed by a federal district court. Hedlund appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately upheld his partial discharge. But the Ninth Circuit did not issue its opinion in Hedlund's case until 2013—ten years after he filed for bankruptcy!

One-day bankruptcies for big corporations and decade-long bankruptcy proceedings for beaten-down student debtors? That doesn't work for me.

References


Hedlund v.Educational Resources Institute, 718 F.3d 848 (9th Cir. 2013).

Henes, J. S. Congress Should Codify the One-Day Bankruptcy. Wall Street Journal, May11, 2020. 

Will Congress help corporations and ignore beaten-down student debtors?








Monday, May 4, 2020

Angry students sue more than 50 colleges after instruction goes on line in response to the coronavirus

A bunch of black swans showed up this spring, and they landed on top of every college administration building in America.

Last March, virtually every postsecondary institution shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Students who lived in campus dorms were told to scram.  Face-to-face instruction screeched to a halt, and the colleges began teaching their students online. The departing students lost access to professors, libraries, and college recreational facilities.

Most universities refunded dorm fees and student meal plans on a  proportional basis. But the universities didn't refund tuition, arguing that students are still getting fair value because their classes are continuing online.

The students aren't buying it. So far, students have sued more than 50 colleges demanding to get their tuition money back. Online instruction is inferior to interacting with professors in a real classroom, they maintain. And of course, they are right.

The colleges respond, with some justification, that they did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic and are doing the best they can under the circumstances.   "Faculty and staff are literally working around the clock," Peter McDonough, a lawyer for a college trade group, argued defensively.

I sympathize with the colleges, but I can say with authority that professors don't work around the clock on anything.  If they claim to be working 24/7, they mean they're working 24 hours in a seven-day week.

And if the universities claim their distance-learning format is equal to face-to-face teaching, they are not telling the truth.  A few professors are tech-savvy and can quickly shift to online education, but a lot of them can't.

In any event, America's elite private schools have justified their nosebleed tuition by professing to offer small class sizes and ample opportunities to personally interact with their professors.  They can't credibly change their story now and claim that their online instruction justifies tuition at $50,000 a year.

Regardless of whether colleges win these lawsuits, they will be severely stressed financially in the coming months. One study predicts that four-year colleges could lose up to 20 percent of their fall enrollment. Any small private school that loses 20 percent of its students this fall will be closed by May.

If you are a professor who works at a small private college, it is time to formulate a Plan B. What will you do if your school shuts down and you are thrown out of work?

And if you are a student who plans to enroll at a small, private school this fall, you too need a Plan B. You need to find out what your institution's financial situation is. You do not want to take out student loans to pay tuition to attend a college that may close before you graduate.

The black swan: Coming soon to a campus near you





Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Coronavirus bailouts for the casinos but nothing for harried student-loan debtors: Let'em eat cake!

Congress turned on the money spigot last month and spewed out cash to millions of people and businesses that were hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

The airlines are getting bailout money, the casinos are eligible for aid, and corporations are accepting loans they don't needAutoWeb, for example, got a $1.4 million federal loan and gave its CEO a $1.7 million bonus one week later.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are burdened by federal student loans they can't repay.  More than a year before the coronavirus outbreak, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos publicly admitted that only one out of four student borrowers were paying down both principal and interest on their federal loans.  One out of five borrowers, DeVos disclosed, were delinquent on their debts or in default.

Now, with the unemployment rate hovering near 15 percent, and millions of hourly workers out of a job, college-loan debtors are struggling more than ever.

And what has the Department of Education done to assist harried student debtors? Not much.

DOE is giving college-loan borrowers a six-month deferment from making their monthly payments, and it won't assess interest on outstanding loans during that time. DOE has also temporarily stopped seizing wages, Social Security benefits, and tax refunds of people who defaulted on their federal student loans.

In other words, the Trump administration is shoveling big bucks to corporations, while it throws a few crumbs to college-loan borrowers.

Here's an illustration that shows just how meaningless the Trump administration's response to the student-loan crisis has been.

Laurina Bukovics borrowed $20,000 more than 30 years ago to obtain a bachelor's degree from Wisconsin University. Through the years, she made regular monthly loan payments except during times when DOE gave her deferments or forbearances due to her financial difficulties.

Over 25 years, Bukovics repaid $29,000 on her student loans—140 percent of what she borrowed. Nevertheless, by the time she showed up in bankruptcy court, her student-loan debt had grown to $80,000—four times what she had received from the federal loan program.

How much relief does a six-month moratorium on loan payments give to people like  Ms. Bukovics, who have been burdened by student debt for their entire adult lives and have seen their loan burdens double, triple, or even quadruple?

Hardly any relief at all.  The federal government has poured out trillions to alleviate the financial crisis that was triggered by the COVID-19 virus.  But much of this money has gone to corporations and businesses. 

When corporations ask the feds for money to help them get through the coronavirus pandemic, the government responds by saying, "Where do we send the check?"

On the other hand, when beaten-down student-loan debtors try to discharge their student debt in bankruptcy, the federal government almost always opposes relief. Ms. Bukovics, for example, was unemployed while she was in bankruptcy and living temporarily with a friend. She had no car, and she was so impoverished that she qualified for food stamps and Medicaid.

And what was the response by the Department of Education's debt collector to Ms. Bukovics's plight?  ECMC opposed bankruptcy relief because it believed Bukokvics was spending too much money on food.


Betsy DeVos's summer home




Monday, April 20, 2020

Coronavirus is a black swan event for regional public colleges: Many will be forced to close

A black swan event is an unexpected occurrence that has potentially devastating consequences. For higher education, the coronavirus pandemic is a black swan event.

Even before COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the national economy, American colleges were suffering from enrollment declines. Declining birthrates have led to a shrinking number of college-age individuals in recent years. Small liberal arts colleges and for-profit institutions were particularly hard hit.

Regional public colleges are also suffering. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state's system of public universities saw an enrollment decline of 20 percent between 2010 and 2019. One small public college, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, saw its student body shrink by 61 percent to less than 1,000 students. Lock Haven University, another Pennsylvania public school, experienced an enrollment drop of 42 percent.

Thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education projects that its 14 public universities will lose between $70 million and $100 million this spring. Some state legislators are calling for the system's small colleges to close.

Several Ohio public universities have also seen enrollment declines. Ohio University, Kent State University, the University of Toledo, and the University of Akron all lost students in 2019.

The University of Wisconsin's 26 two- and four-year institutions have recorded enrollment drops as well. UW's two-year colleges experienced a shocking 49 percent drop between 2010 and 2019.  One institution, UW-Plattville at Richland, a satellite campus of UW-Plattville, lost 58 percent of its students in just one year.  As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the University of Wisconsin's branch campuses had fewer students in 2019 than they did in 1973.

All these enrollment drops took place before the coronavirus pandemic showed up. And enrollment declines will surely accelerate in the wake of statewide stay-at-home orders that have triggered staggering drops in state tax revenues.

In the years to come, regional publ colleges all over the United States will be forced to close. Many states have far too many regional campuses. As public revenues decline in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the states simply can't afford to keep them open.

Moreover, increased opportunities for online learning are making regional campuses obsolete. If students are going to take their classes from home computers, there is no need to have a brick-and-mortar campus in their neighborhood.

College-bound high school graduates who decide to enroll at a public university in their home state should make every effort to get admitted to their state's flagship public university.  By and large, the flagships are seeing an uptick in their enrollments and can offer broader course offerings and student services than the regionals.

A few regional public institutions are thriving and maintaining their enrollment levels. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I taught until I retired, is poised to remain viable even if the economic downturn persists. ULL has a nursing school, engineering programs, and computer-science offerings that make its degrees attractive in Louisiana's job market.

But in Louisiana and in most states, the small, marginal public colleges that were often their community's largest employer will be shutting down. For most students, it will not make sense to attend a regional school that may disappear before they pay off their student loans.